Falls, swimming and year-round activities at Cunningham Falls State Park

Falls, swimming and hiking at Cunningham Falls
Falls, swimming and hiking at Cunningham Falls
Falls, swimming and hiking at Cunningham Falls
Posted at 4:57 PM, Aug 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 19:30:22-04

Just an hour from the bustling cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C., Cunningham Falls State sits in the Catoctin Mountains in Frederick County. 

The park is home to the 78-foot cascading Cunningham Falls, a 43-acre lake and 16 miles of trails. In addition, a 27-mile trail connects Cunningham Falls State Park to neighboring Gambrill State Park.

For more than 100 years, the iron industry used the Catoctin Mountain's forests to make charcoal. In 1903 when the Catoctin Furnace was extinguished, the mountain was left scared from clear-cutting and forest fire. 

In 1936, the National Park Service received a directive to cultivate the Catoctin Mountain for recreation, as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program. The Civilian Conservation Crops and the Works Progress Administration planted trees, built cabins and picnic areas and cut trails.

Catoctin Mountain Park's preservation was one of 46 similar projects nationwide. After it's completion, the land was returned to the state. In 1945, President Truman decided the land should be a national park, rather than a state park.

"Because of interest now associated with Catoctin historical events of national and international Recreation Area, this property should be retained by the Federal Government," the president remarked.

In 1954, the recreation area was split. Cunningham Falls State Park is maintained by the Maryland Park Service and Catoctin Mountain Park is part of the National Park Service.

Fast Facts:

  • Established in 1954 under the Eisenhower Administration
  • Hunting is permitted on 3,500 acres of wild lands
  • The site of the first Job Corps Camp
  • During World War II, Roosevelt established a presidential retreat at the park
  • Home to one of Maryland Park Service's seven aviaries

For more than 40 years, Cunningham Falls State Park has hosted an annual Maple Syrup Festival. On the second and third weekends in March, park rangers demonstrate the traditional way to craft maple syrup. A pancake breakfast is served and maple syrup products are available to purchase.

The event benefits the Friends of Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks, a non-profit organization that has supported the parks since 1996. The Friends donate items necessary to the parks, such as vehicles, handicapped beach wheelchairs and funds for maintenance. 

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Upcoming Events:

  • September 26 - National Public Lands Day: Give back to the land and join other volunteers for an afternoon of clean up at Gambrill State Park.
  • October 22 - Spirits of the Furnace: Guided tour through a historic village and the Cunningham Falls Catoctin Iron Furnace. Reservations are required and tickets must be purchased in advance
  • October 30 - 5K Fun Run/Walk and Tot Trot: Join Frederick County's most scenic 5K or do a 1.4 mile fun run. Proceeds from the run will benefit The Friends of Cunningham Falls State Park and Gambrill State Park. For more information or to register, click here.
  • December 10 - Museums by Candlelight: Enjoy an illuminated Christmas tour At the Manor area of the Cunningham Falls State Park. Click here for more details.
  • For a list of weekly programs offered, call 301-271-7574

Click here for more Baltimore area events.